A guest rant by Dee/Red Dirt Rambling
Writing about gardening isn’t rocket science or even brain
surgery, but it isn’t easy either.
It’s not enough anymore to correctly identify a plant by its botanical,
cultivar and common name. In the last decade, plant hybridizers and propagators
began to patent their new creations with gusto and then trademark them. To say
this causes garden writers and editors a lot of headaches is an understatement.
In journalism school, I was taught to write clearly and
concisely about my subject. I’m essentially providing information to the reader,
but when writing about my great passion, I also want to capture the romance of
fauna, flower and vegetable while encouraging other gardeners.
In the past, if I wrote about a modern rose, it was fairly
simple. I identified it botanically and by class and then listed the cultivar
in single quotes. Now, with plant
patents and trademarks, it takes more than a correct botanical i.d., and don’t
get me started on the taxonomists—coleus recently changed to the nearly
unpronounceable Solenostemon scutellarioides which perplexed everyone. I must also determine if the plant’s name
is a cultivar or a trademark (or if they are one and the same). If a cultivar,
it should be surrounded by single quotation marks. If a trademark, hybridizers
would like an ® or a ™ behind the name depending on where it is within the
process. Add to this that editors and writers can’t agree whether the trademark
symbol should even be listed, and you’ll begin to understand the complexity.
It’s been my experience editors usually want cultivar names listed,
and with some of the newer plants, these are becoming more difficult to find
because hybridizers want us to promote their trademark.
According to one magazine’s guidelines, the crapemyrtle
Tightwad Red®, would be Lagerstroemia indica 'Whit V' Tightwad Red®
(crapemyrtle). If I include all of this information in the article every time I
list the plant, even while shortening Lagerstroemia to L., it makes for some clumsy
To be fair, I wondered why patenting and trademarks became de
rigueur, so I called Dr. Carl Whitcomb, who is a
crapemyrtle breeder, and asked him.
doesn’t leave the farm until it is distinctly different from one in the trade,
and it takes numerous tests and trials to make sure you’re satisfied this plant
is unique and will make enough royalties to justify the expense,” he said.
In the twenty-six years of his business, Dr. Whitcomb grew over
half a million plants and yet, as of now, he’s patented only eight. He feels
patents and trademarks protect his property rights. If a company wants to grow L.
indica ‘Whit II’ Dynamite® for example, it signs a license agreement and pays a
royalty fee for each plant sold. Plant patents only last twenty years. So, Dr.
Whitcomb also trademarks a name he hopes will resonate with the public. The
trademark application requires a unique cultivar name, and Dr. Whitcomb chooses
one which is less desirable. As long as he continues to renew the trademark,
even when the patent expires, he hopes Dynamite® becomes the standard, and companies
will continue to sell the plant as such.
After my talk with Dr. Whitcomb, I understand his reasoning.
However, it doesn’t make my job any easier, and sometimes, I think the use of so
many names puzzles the public especially when writers make mistakes. How many
times have you seen trademark names incorrectly identified with single quotes?
By the way, Dr. Whitcomb wants you know that the common name
for L. indica should be written as one word, not as crepe myrtle or crape
myrtle because it isn’t a myrtle tree, and the USDA database agrees with
Yet, if you search the common name, you’ll find it written
as two words almost everywhere.
See what I mean?